Scientists have made a major breakthrough in understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Prior to last week, little was known about why people got the memory disease, and treatments seemed far off.
But, for the first time, researchers at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego figured out the underlying cause of the disease — and a surprisingly simple way to treat it.
By comparing brain samples of seven people who had Alzheimer’s and six who didn’t, researchers were able to show that the genetic blueprint of people with Alzheimer’s changes dramatically as they’re developing the disease, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
While Alzheimer’s disease shows up in people’s genes, it’s almost never inherited. This has long stumped researchers. But the San Diego researchers used new technology to observe that genes are “mixed and matched” in the brain throughout the course of someone’s life.
One of the genes that goes through this mixing and matching is the gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
The discovery was good news. But here’s even better news: Now, a treatment is just around the corner.
The shuffling mechanism has some similarities to the way HIV spreads. And because pharmaceutical companies have already developed drugs to stop that mechanism, they can use the same medications to stop Alzheimer’s disease from getting worse. Even though the drugs can’t reverse current damage, it’s a big step toward stopping the disease from getting worse.
This is exciting, the authors say, because the drugs are already approved by the FDA — a process that can take an average of about 10 years. Now, researchers can dive right into clinical trials of the drug for Alzheimer’s patients.
“For the first time, we can see what may cause the disease,” lead researcher Jerold Chun tells The Post. “We also uncovered a potential near-term treatment.”
A solution like this was becoming increasingly urgent as the population ages. Six million Americans have Alzheimer’s, but the number is expected to rise to about 14 million in the next 40 years, according to the CDC.
“An effective treatment can’t come soon enough for patients and their loved ones,” Chun says.
This isn’t the first breakthrough that could use already approved medications: Earlier this month, researchers from Mount Sinai found that diabetes treatments could also be effective in easing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
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